Easement brings continued long-term power and reliability to members

Landscape with road and transmission tower
Transmission line crossing road on Lake Traverse Reservation.

Strong relationships don’t happen overnight. They are created and built upon over the years through mutual respect, trust, and a common goal. For many years, Basin Electric, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Whetstone Valley Electric Cooperative have nurtured a close relationship in order to provide reliable power to their members.

In the mid-1970s, Basin Electric constructed the Leland Olds Station-to-Watertown 345-kilovolt (kV) transmission line across roughly a mile and a half of the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation. Since then, Basin Electric lineworkers have been maintaining the transmission line across Tribal land, creating a lasting relationship that still exists today.

One of the easements secured for the transmission line was contracted for a 50-year term through the BIA. That contract expired in March 2023, which meant a new easement needed to be acquired for the existing facility. By using the existing right-of-way, Basin Electric avoided the cost of a reroute which helps rate stability and keeps power affordable for members.

While considering next steps, it was determined that to provide long-term, reliable power, the new easement would again need to be for a term of 50 years, which is the maximum term the BIA can grant per federal regulations. In this case, the reservation was the only route and easement pursued because the transmission line already existed.

With the help of Dave Page, general manager of Basin Electric Class C member Whetstone Valley Electric Cooperative, and Gene Sass, one of the co-op’s lineworkers, Basin Electric was put in touch with the right Tribal representative. “Gene has developed solid relationships with our members and stakeholders to improve our service to them,” Page says. “He knew just who to call regarding this project.”

“Knowing the contract was expiring in 2023, we reached out to the Lake Traverse BIA Realty Office in 2018 to inquire about a new 50-year easement grant and was told it was too early to start the process,” Mike Murray, Basin Electric director of Property and Right-of-Way, says. “In August 2022 we really geared up and started to work hard to secure an appraiser to determine the value of the easement.”

Janine Renville, deputy superintendent of Trust Services at the BIA, says there are a lot of steps involved in submitting an application for a right-of-way project. “Application packages must include the application or letter of intent and maps of the location of the easement. Landowner information is provided to the applicant, and we let them know that appraisals are needed. Once the appraisals are done, we submit those to the Appraisal Valuation Services Office for review and approval.”

Jerry Haas, Basin Electric senior Property and Right-of-Way specialist, says the BIA was great to work with from start to finish. The BIA acknowledged the expiring easement and Basin Electric’s need to pursue a new contract. David Lawrence, independent consultant working as a contracted appraiser for the Sisseton-Wahpeton-Oyate Tribe, and the staff on the Realty Office team were very helpful and kept an open line of communication going throughout the process. They provided clear direction to keep everything on schedule. “We didn’t run into any issues aside from the looming deadline,” Haas says. “There was a lot of back-and-forth follow up in the final weeks to get the easement approved.”

After the appraisals were approved, consent forms were sent to the landowners of each allotment affected by the right-of-way; the BIA needs a majority of the landowners to consent in order for the right-of-way to be approved. “Once we obtain the required number of consents back from the landowners, we issue a Grant of Right-of-Way to the applicant approving the right-of-way. Once payment is received, we scan the complete right-of-way package for recording at the Land Titles & Records Office, and the complete recorded package is then sent to the applicant for their records,” Renville says.

From ensuring the maximum 50-year term, to the negotiation of the value of the easement, to the completeness of the right-of-way application which helped the process move along efficiently, all parties involved appreciated how smoothly the process went. With only a week to spare before the contract expired, Basin Electric received the new signed contract for the easement on March 20, 2023, roughly eight months after the process began.

Murray is quick to point out that this achievement was due to a total collaborative effort between the BIA, Whetstone Valley Electric Cooperative, and Basin Electric staff from Engineering, Environmental, the Office of the General Counsel, and Right-of-Way.

A relationship, much like a contract, sets the foundation for continued collaboration and success, and benefits the communities in which our members live and work. With the renewal of the 50-year contract comes continued reliability to our members, including Whetstone Valley Electric Cooperative, which in turn serves a portion of the Lake Traverse Reservation.

“Reliability is a growing demand for our consumers,” Page says. “The alliance between Tribal leaders, Basin Electric, and Whetstone Valley Electric Cooperative is imperative for continued grid reliability in our region.”

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